What is Hepatitis C?
- Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus: the virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness.
Who is at risk for Hepatitis C?
The following persons are at known to be at increased risk:
- Current or former injection drug users, including those who injected only once many years ago
- Recipients of clotting factor concentrates made before 1987, when more advanced methods for manufacturing those products were developed
- Recipients of blood transfusions or solid organ transplants before July 1992, when better testing of blood donors became available
- Chronic hemodialysis patients
- Persons with known exposures to Hepatitis C, such as
- health care workers after needle sticks involving Hepatitis C positive blood
- recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested Hepatitis C-positive
- Persons with HIV infection
- Children born to Hepatitis C-positive mothers
How is Hepatitis C spread?
Hepatitis C is transmitted primarily through large or repeated percutaneous (i.e., passage through the skin) exposures to infectious blood, such as:
- Injection drug use (currently the most common means transmission in the United States)
- Receipt of donated blood, blood products, and organs (once a common means of transmission but now rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)
- Needle stick injuries in health care settings
- Birth to an Hepatitis C-infected mother
Hepatitis C can also be spread infrequently through:
- Sex with a Hepatitis C infected person (an inefficient means of transmission)
- Sharing personal items contaminated with infectious blood, such as razors or toothbrushes (also inefficient vectors of transmission)
- Other health care procedures that involve invasive procedures, such as injections (usually recognized in the context of outbreaks)
Transmission does not occur by:
- Sharing eating utensils
- Hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, or other casual contact
- Hepatitis C virus is not found in urine or feces
- Through food or water
Persons with newly acquired Hepatitis C infection usually are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms that are unlikely to prompt a visit to a health care professional. When symptoms occur, they can include:
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stool
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
Does the infection of hepatitis C make a person immune?
Infection with Hepatitis C can lead to immunity – if you recover from acute infection and the infection does not progress to chronic infection. Approximately 75–85% of people acutely infected will go on to develop a chronic infection.
Once you recover from Hepatitis C, you must get tested by your provider to see if you have cleared the virus. Being free from symptoms does not mean that your immune system fought off the infection.
What are the complications associated with hepatitis C?
Chronic Hepatitis C is a serious disease that can result in long term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. Approximately 8,000–10,000 people die every year from Hepatitis C-related liver disease in the United States.
There are several treatment options for people with chronic Hepatitis C infections. There are a number of medications for Hepatitis C that clear the virus at a very high rate with more than 90% of patients who complete treatment being cured. Current standard of care medications for Hepatitis C include:
- Sovaldi (sofosbuvir)
- Harvoni (ledispasivir and sofosbuvir)
- Viekira Pak
There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for anyone with Hepatitis C. Primary prevention interventions include:
- Safe and appropriate use of health care injections, and disposal of sharps and waste
- Do not share needles or any other injection supplies, including water. Always wash hands before injecting
- Do not share any straws to snort drugs, or pipes to smoke drugs
- Cover any open cuts or wounds
- Promotion of correct and consistent use of condoms
- Make sure that in healthcare settings standard safety precautions are being carefully followed
- Do not share any personal hygiene items such as razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers or pierced earrings. Cover personal items and keep them separate from other people you live with.
- Hand hygiene: including surgical hand preparation, hand washing and use of gloves
- Testing of donated blood for Hepatitis B and C (as well as HIV and syphilis)
- Training of health personnel